Universiti Malaya student Nurfatihah Noor Azhar Shah is making video calls at least two to three times a day to stay in touch with her family in Penang during Ramadan.
She moved out of the Petaling Jaya campus and rented a place when the MCO started, as students were not allowed to go back to their hometown at the time though the government has since given permission for them to travel back in batches.
Even her grandmother rings her regularly, she said, adding, “She usually likes to ask about what I’ll be cooking for the day.”
Nurfatihah is excited to make dishes for breaking fast, but is also mindful and cautious that she is not exposed to negativity even though she is just staying at home.
“Ramadan isn’t just about not eating or drinking before the sun sets for the day, as it’s also important to refrain from saying or doing something that is considered negative or not beneficial,” she said.
Instead of scrolling through social media platforms like Instagram, Nurfatihah said she spends more time watching live usrah (religious discussions) videos from notable teachers on YouTube, including Ustaz Azhar Idrus who has over half a million followers.
Even Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs, Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri, has started a video series (#NgajiDenganMenteri) on various topics related to Ramadan through his YouTube channel which has over 35,000 subscribers.
For Ramadan, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) student Nur Farhana Mohamad Farris said she too will be listening to podcasts by prominent religious figures like American-Muslim scholar Omar Suleiman, author and professor of Islamic studies Dr Ingrid Mattson, and Mufti Menk, a Zimbabwe-based Muslim cleric who has over five million followers on Twitter.
“I would probably do lots of Quran readings, listen to religious sermons to educate myself more during Ramadan,” she shared.
The need to feel cautious about time spent on the Internet during Ramadan is shared by Penang-based student Muhammad Arif Hakimi Mohd Radzi who felt that there is too much bitterness on social media.
“Since it is Ramadan I want to reduce my Internet and social media usage because there’s a lot of toxic content on the platform,” he said.
Muhammad Arif Hakimi explained that he dislikes it when some social media users feel the need to make negative comments on another person’s postings.
“Some people just want to share their happiness on social media and then there are users who just want to say something mean by condemning them. Then you have people who want to share their problems but it ends up becoming a thread on users comparing their issues. I feel they should just offer each other moral support instead,” he said.
Mohamad Azwan Mahmud Safbri is another student who is planning to spend more time watching religious videos online during Ramadan.
“It depends on the individual’s faith,” he said, adding that Muslims should control their media consumption at all times and not just during the holy month.
He admitted that this year’s Ramadan will not be the same as the MCO meant he can’t go to the mosque for terawih (evening) prayers or be with his family. But he is determined to see it in a new light: “Perhaps this is a reminder from God for us to be grateful for every little thing that we have.”
Mohamad Azwan, currently staying in Shah Alam, Selangor, will be using video calls to keep up with what his family in Pasir Mas, Kelantan is doing during Ramadan.
Meanwhile, homemaker Nurhidayah Ramli said using WhatsApp video calls or Google Duo (for a larger group) to keep in touch with family members has become a norm for her and others during MCO.
Previously, she would only use video calls for special occasions, describing how on one Saturday evening, her family got together via a video call for a birthday celebration.
“It was wholesome. We managed to get all the family members together and wished my brother Happy Birthday. We also got the chance to buka puasa with my husband’s family in Kuching, Sarawak. It gives that temporary feeling of completeness even though we’re all far away from each other,” she said.
Bazaars go online
Amirulrafiq Kamaruddin immediately started the Facebook page Seremban Online Bazaar Ramadhan 2020 right after he heard the announcement that there will be no Ramadan bazaars in Negeri Sembilan this year due to Covid-19. He said the purpose of the group was to help Ramadan bazaar sellers promote their business online and manage the delivery aspect for them.
The group grew from 7,000 members in March to over 30,000 last month.
“On the first day of Ramadan, there were hiccups as some of our sellers didn’t know when to stop accepting orders for the day,” he said.
“We advised them to have a cut off time so runners don’t have to rush to send last minute orders and end up not breaking their own fast on time.”
He has also asked that sellers start promoting their items from 8pm to 11pm daily on the Facebook page and take orders the day before to give them enough time to prepare the food for delivery the next day.
When it rains in the evening, he said customers have to expect that orders will be delayed. For now, he has found around 30 people to deliver food, mostly catering to customers around Seremban.
“In the first week, most people were ordering roti john or murtabak. It’s usually the most popular food item at Ramadan bazaars so I guess more people want to eat them at home during MCO.”
Amirulrafiq, who is a graphics designer, said that he does not get any financial benefit from managing the Facebook page and taking care of the delivery aspect for sellers. He said he just wanted to help food sellers in Seremban earn an income using online platforms.
“Some of the sellers will offer me free food as a way of saying ‘thank you’. I think I have enough to eat throughout Ramadan,” he said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Gabungan Persatuan Penjaja & Peniaga Kecil Melayu Malaysia (GPPPKMM) said users can order food from Ramadan bazaar sellers through its Warong Digital initiative on the KiplePay app.
“At the moment, we have about 1,000 sellers on the platform and we’re targeting 5,000 more to be part of the initiative,” said its secretary Mohamed Zamri Mohammed.
Mohamed Zamri admitted that some sellers are having issues getting used to running a business through an app.
This made GPPPKMM set up a daily Zoom session for sellers to get technical advice on how to use the app.
“Our sellers are mostly from the older generation who are used to conducting business in stalls. This is the first time they are using services like online delivery and learning about cashless payment methods,” he said.
Mohamed Zamri estimated that it would take about a week or two for most of the sellers to get used to a digital platform.
“We want our members, who are mostly small traders, to learn that this is not just something that they can do for Ramadan but throughout the year as well. So for the first-timers on a digital platform, we ask them to treat Ramadan as a practice round to adapt to this new way of reaching out to customers.”